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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Practice Across the Borders!!!

Being a physician who crossed over to the tech and consulting part of contributing to society, I always was confused if I did the right thing by crossing over. There were three interactions I had with a peer, a colleague and a mother that made me feel that I can still contribute as a physician even though I don't practice anymore. 

My peer is 10 years my senior and is now the President of a company in India that is reviving the concept of Family Physicians in India. He told me over beer one day that I should remember always that I am primarily a physician. Whatever, I do in life, I shouldn't forget that I am a physician first and then a analyst and a product owner. Thanks to him, I try to think what my patient wants and how I can make a solution or platform simple enough for my patient to use. 

My colleague, now ex-, has moved on to being the Country Head of a not for profit organization in Uganda. At an airport in sub-Saharan Africa, he reminded me that as a practicing doctor I could only attend a limited number of patients in a day. By moving on to the tech side, I can influence the lives of millions of people by making it easy for them to stay connected to what matters to them. Without realizing it, I was probably had the power to influence millions of lives with what I was helping create. The thought scares me even today and keeps me grounded to reality when it comes to developing solutions and information for the users. 

During a visit to Jakarta, we were doing field visits and went to some Primary Health centers in the outskirts of Jakarta. As usual the places were crowded and lot of people bringing kids for immunization, etc. We were part of an initiative that involved information dissemination to pregnant and young mothers on the importance of breast feeding and health checks. During one of the visits to a Posyandu (health center), one of the organizers introduced me as a Dr. from India. Then there were lot of people from the crowd speaking and I don't understand that much of Bahasa except for thank you, sorry and give me food! When someone translated I understood that they wanted me to sing a Bollywood song of all things!!! Fortunately for them I decided not to scare them with my limited skills at crooning.

What happened next was what made the entire effort of bearing the equatorial heat and the mad rush satisfying. A young mother brought her frail son and asked me if I can examine him. She heard there was a “foreign” Dr visiting. She said the local doctors had diagnosed her 5 year son of a heart condition and the heart institute had recommended a surgery. She was scared to put the child under the knife and didn't go back to the hospital though the surgery would be free in the Govt Heart Institute. For the first time in nearly 6 years I picked up a stethoscope to examine anyone other than my son. What I heard clearly showed that the child had a septal defect, means a hole in the heart in simple English. I was really concerned now, because the frailty of the kid was because the blood from both the chambers were mixing and that meant the oxygen levels get reduced in blood leading to decreased availability for the body to grow. If left without intervention the child's condition would worsen over time. I didn't speak her language and she didn't understand mine. I looked at her and speaking very slowly told her what the kid was going through and that the procedure would save the child from certain death. There was someone translating what I was saying in the background, but I felt that it wasn't needed. I guess she understood because she promised she will get the child operated.

Being a meandering physician, there are instances that I come across every single day that are frustrating as well as taxing on the mind. There are hilarious and scary instances like an incident of a flight where I prevented a schizophrenic??? who had discontinued medication from joining the "high mile" club. I had to sedate the person on the flight to prevent him from doing what he was intending to do!!! There are sad instances where I helplessly assisted an old couple with the death certificate for their young son (who happened to be my colleague and died in a traffic accident). Then there are instances as above that remind me the famous quote from the Spiderman movies, "With great power comes great responsibility!!!"